My daughter loves her iPad, which acts as her communication device. She carries it when you carry her. She falls asleep with it clutched tightly to her chest. She yells at other people who touch the buttons and speak for her – Go! Go! Go! It is everywhere she is.
As it should be.
There are times when we make mistakes and forget it in another room. She reminds us quickly and angrily, grunting & yelling. As soon as it is placed in front of her, she quiets.
To take away my daughter’s iPad is the same as if I placed duct tape over your mouth. It is not an exaggeration. When you remove her iPad, you are stealing her voice. When you speak for her, instead of giving her time, you are saying that your time is not worth her words. When you block her access, you are hurting her. These things may be accidents, or they may not. It doesn’t matter. If I stabbed your throat accidentally, would you hurt less? When you get laryngitis, though no one is to blame, are you less frustrated?
I am terrified that she will return to school, and lose her voice. She likes to babble. She presses different buttons, exploring with her hands what she cannot always see with her eyes. I can see her babbling at circle time, on the potty, in the halls, and all these other times that are “not appropriate”. I can see her device being left behind in the classroom instead of being brought to the playground. I can see it not being important enough to take to gym or music or library (quiet!).
All children who first learn to speak like to babble, to chatter, to basically talk off the ears of everyone around them. They play with words to find their meaning. Only children with disabilities can have their talk stifled. Only children with disabilities are left voiceless, passive, and victim to an adult who is in control. While typically developing children are taught the skills of when and where and how to talk, we simply shut down children with disabilities entirely. We tell them, “It’s circle time” and place their device away. We say, “We’re practicing puzzles right now” and leave the PECS book in the cubby.
This is discrimination. This is cruel. This is wrong.
This is true regardless of the method that our children use to communicate. It could be picture symbols, a speaking device, or gestures. It could be grunts, a turning of the head, a laugh, a sigh, or a tone of breath. It could be a certain movement of the hand. How many times have we blocked a child’s communication with a “quiet hands” or “quiet mouth”? How many times have we missed out on a child’s communication because we did not take the time to see, really see? How many times have we thought a friend, family member, or client was lying, exaggerating, or misunderstanding what their child says and does? How many times have we ignored and redirected communication because it wasn’t the “targeted goal” or an “acceptable format”?
We cannot call ourselves advocates while we take away the voices of children and adults with disabilities. We cannot call ourselves friends while we value our own speech over theirs.
Every time I forget my daughter’s device, I apologize. I tell her that I am sorry that I wronged her, and that I will keep trying to do right by her. I see how excited she is to share her thoughts. It’s basic. It’s fundamental. I thank my daughter every day for teaching me to be a better mother, a better teacher, and a better person — a person who is learning what it means to stand with and honor diversity.